INTERVIEW : Brix Smith talks about her return and her days in the Fall
Brix and the Extricated play London ICA tomorrow night (Friday) with special guests the Membranes and Tom Hingley. There’s a handful of tickets left at Wegottickets.
There have been many periods of the Fall. Like a mighty empire it stretches across continents and time zones. One of the most cherished was when Brix Smith suddenly appeared in the band after marrying Mark after a two week whirlwind romance adding a whole new angular pop and psyche guitar trip dimension to the band that is many people’s favourite Fall period.
She did return a few years later for a short lived return before becoming famous in her own right as a TV fashion expert. It looked like Brix was set up for life in TV land but there was something about the rock and the roll that has pulled her back to its treacherous world.
Recently hooking up with some of the key and best loved members of the Fall like the Hanley brothers Brix has played a brace of gigs doing justice to Fall classics and obscure Fall songs as well as Adult Net tunes and some new material that has been too good for the occasional doubters and sees the band on fire and ready release a debut album next year. Brix plans to release her autobiography with the Extricated album next year and she is also working on a solo album.
LTW : When we talk about music and you coming back after 15 years there is a lot of affection for your years in the Fall but also talk of emotional scars making it hard to initially play again.
Brix : If you has asked me two years ago if I would ever be playing music again or writing again or picking up a guitar I would have laughed in your face. I never thought I would go backI wanted nothing to do with it again. I was damaged by the whole thing. Wanted to move on and be creative in different ways like performing on TV or doing the shop or writing the book.
LTW : It was several random factors that saw you return…
Brix : The Steve Hanley book was one of the catalysts. Before that a few people close to me in my life had weirdly come up to me and said why are you not playing guitar? This happened again and again and I thought fuck off I don’t want to! It was people that were really close to me like my husband or Lizzie Walker who is Andy Wetherall’s fiance. They all said you should do this again and I thought maybe there is something to it. So much time had past. It had been 15 years since I had played. I had given away all my guitars and sold them all off. I gave them away but there were a few left in my closet, some guitars I had lost track of and a few I didn’t collect when I lent them out. One day I came home and thought, what the hell, and there was no one at home. It was just me and the two dogs so I picked up a guitar from the closet and start playing it and I don’t know what happened John but it was like the most incredable thing. It was like my hand remembered what to play, it was like a musical muscle memory and there were masses of songs waiting in the ether above my head to come through. I reached a mental place in my life and was ready to receive the information that is there and it was like I was singing and my voice was no longer the sweet honey voice of Adult Net this was a different voice. Were it came from I don’t know but it’s crazy. I was playing and weeping and outpouring and I did this every day for two weeks and then all I could do was think about the music all the time. One day my husband came home and I said I want to show you something, as he had no idea, and I played him some of the songs and he loved them!
LTW : And the Steve Hanley’s great book about his life in the Fall came out…
Brix : Yes. At the same time I get the Steve book and I read the book and realised the importance of the part I played in that era of the Fall. I was a pivotal part in – Mark has said that before. Who knows what would have happened to the Fall if all that had not happened. I realised I was important and a good song writer and it was time for me to take credit. I had kept my mouth shut for a long time and maybe it was time to take credit, grow a pair and stand up and say I did this and lay claim to this and use this as a base to go forward and do more now I’m free to do what I want (laughs).
LTW : We saw you at the Steve Hanley book launch in Manchester which was months before the band came together and wondered if you were going to get up and play a song with him.
Brix : I went the Steve Hanley book launch in Manchester and they had put together a band and you were singing in it. It was like I thought watching you guys and something inside me snapped. It took all of me not to not jump up on stage and start playing. I was bitten by bug and the big passion took over. Later on I said to Steve why didn’t you ask me to play and he said we didn’t think you would! He didn’t know I had been playing at home. He then said why not for fun lets get together and write a bit and said that’s a good idea, lets get a room in London and do some writing together and we did and the magic was still there.
We all have got good songs and it felt so right and it felt so good. It was just amazing and then Jay Taylor at the Ruby Lounge in Manchester heard about it and, god bless him, had the balls to say, guys why don’t I give you gig for fun at my venue. After that everything snowballed and then my life changed!
Now I am writing and finishing the book and I’m writing two albums at the same time. Infact this is the most prolific period of my life. It was blocked for so long with everything that this is a huge watershed that is coming through and its now snowballed and this is the first tour and it feels so good!
LTW : With all this new material which from what we have heard sounds great why play the Fall songs – which are great versions – is it a case of reclaiming your past?
Brix : It’s not so much an agenda or reclaiming the past. it was more because those songs had been lying dormant for 30 years and the Fall don’t do them. They do new stuff. They do that to make it challenging. They do what they do and that’s good. These are songs we love playing. It’s a passion for us to do what we did and we can rework them in different ways. Also with me singing it is a very different dynamic and a different interpretation of what we wrote and I really feel it works. The audience feels that it really works as well and it’s just so much fun doing them again. We have also been recording all summer and it’s sounding really good. There are Fall like elements to it but it pushes into the future because now we have grown as humans and musicians since the last time and even if I didn’t play I have developed as a person and I play way better because of that. So we are doing new songs as well. We do the old ones to give them life again and bring them out. Songs like LA or Totally Wired – they still sound as relevant as they ever did. They are fun and people love that and we are also pushing new songs into the set. We want to be seen as band on our own terms in the future though and not relying on the back catalogue and we know that.
LTW: There is a lot of talk amongst various ex members of being damaged by the Fall whilst respecting it – would this be a chance to come to terms with this?
Brix : Being in the Fall is weird and a very intense environment. It was very controlled but not in the way that you can predict and it;s dangerous. Everything had a duality – the danger brings creativity but it’s like standing on shifting sands and all the time you would never know where you stand. There was an element of fear all the time but there was something very special about it. It’s not normal however in my early days there was a very strong partnership between me and Mark. I was definately the second in command and he referred to me for a lot of things used a lot of my ideas for stuff.
LTW : Was it like good cop/bad cop!
Brix : I was definitely the good cop! I’m not criticising Mark. Whatever he did worked on whatever level it worked on. Look at them then and now. I learned a lot and I don’t regret or begrudge it. It gave me a spine and a backbone. It took some time to regroup after such an intense experience . It was like being on a submarine for five years and to come out into the light and have to cope with the world again!
LTW : Was this a deliberate policy by Mark or the only way he can work?
Brix : I don’t know if it’s fully conscious but it works for him and it has worked for him – why are they still going when many wouldn’t be? it was my choice to be in the band or not. I was never fired. I left. You take a chance and that’s his choice and you respect it.
LTW : There is a powerful magnetic force about the Fall
Brix : The fabulousness of the Fall. The music is hypnotic, creative, mesmerising when it’s together and on fire and it can transcend reality and other dimensions. It’s powerful shit when it’s on fire and for us coming back now we can still feel it. When we last played there was no such thing as social media and you would know if certain journalists would come to the gig and you knew they were coming and you had to do your best! now you always have to do your best because the whole audience is on line! so really we have to have our shit together and bring it every time we play and I love that pressure – it doesn’t matter how big or small or sold out the gig is and I love it and its instant.
LTW : That mesmeric nature of Fall – the Fall groove we like to call it comes from Steve Hanley
hunched over his bass.
Brix : He is what they say he is – the engine room and for me the grounding rod. What I want in my monitors is basically the bass – he is my earth. I weave my melodies around his bass lines. The bass sandwiches everything together and gives it a real intensity and punches through the melodies on every level.
LTW: Is the songwriting a collaborative process
Brix : It works in different ways. If I write music I write the music and the words and bring it in and the band will fill in stuff or they will hand me stuff they have written and I will write melodies and the words. Or, we can go into a room and mess around and something will come out like on a new song called Temporary Insanity where we went in the room and we hit upon a groove and it sounded great. They are all excellent songwriters – Steve Trafford is the head of songwriting at a college and Jason is a trained musical examiner. I’m working with great songwriters. Steve and Paul have written a lot of great songs as well. The more time we are in a room, the more stuff comes out. One things gets another and soon it become fabulous. It’s like body parts! someone brings bones, someones brings the blood and someone brings the heart!
LTW : And lyrically?
Bro : The lyrics are very much me. They are about different things. I have always written lyrics obviously not many in the Fall because Mark was amazing but this is now my time. They are about all sorts, all about different things. I don’t even know how describe them. I’m really happy with them . Something To Lose is a punky fabulous song which is about everything in life being like a fleeting moment and having to go with the flow and how you have something tangible one minute and then it’s ‘I was clean today, tomorrow I will be filthy, tomorrow will be like a rainbow give me something to lose, uh! and then it gets dirtier and darker – ‘a darting tongue licking an ice cream move it about, I watched a girl kicking and screaming uh give me something to lose,’ an ice cream on the tongue – it’s there and then it;s gone or the girl gets attacked and then its gone – it’s a pretty heavy song but there are also loads about love it just depends on what I feel and works in the song.
LTW : Sounds like there is lots of new material.
Brix : The new songs will infiltrate the set in places where we have played before . We constantly keep upping it, some are like reclaimed songs which we changed, I thought I would never play Adult Net again but the fans kept asking for it on Twitter and I have been approached by 2/3 labels to release the music again. In some ways it was ahead of its time and should have done way better than it did – these are good songs! The band also really wanted to do We also have a new cover version – Ball Of Confusion which we decided to do a while ago. Maybe vocally it was not initially in my comfort zone but I’m always up for a challenge and the everything happened in Paris and the cover became a reality and we really had to do it. It was so apt lyrically. You can imagine the bass line and the words really touch on the state of world, the flux and people screaming – stop the war! It’s a ball of confusion everywhere and was written all those years and is so part of right now. It’s so timeless. So I worked out a way of singing it and even rapping it.
LTW : Mark Smith sort of raps in the Fall. Sort of.
Brix : The way he sings a word like sprecht in German – he spits the words out – he calls himself one of the original rappers. Ian McCulloch said the other day that Mark said he had invented rap, there is so much in the delivery. He is a great singer.
LTW : Have you spoken to him
Brix : No way! It’s not that I don’t want to. I’m just not engaging in it any more. It’s not that I mind what says. He can say what he likes. He can flail his wrists against the cradle as much as he wants but its onwards and upwards. I don’t want to do anything to hurt him or them or take anything away from them. We are a different entity now. We have moved on to a different house now. I don’t want to get into it. I don’t care what he says. It’s none of my business. I can’t control any of it. I have to move on. He can do what he wants.
LTW: With all these songs are you going to keep the set fluid
Brix : I always want to keep things fresh and move on. At the same also to do what we feel and gives us pleasure. If we are up there loving what we are doing it will translate to the audience and will give people what they want. Why make it difficult all the time when they need enjoyment. Life is short.
LTW: What do you think the hardcore Fall fans think of your band?
Brix : I’m passionate and giving it everything I have and they can see that. I truly love playing those songs again – songs like Hotel Bloedel we were never allowed to play live till we did it in Manchester and fuck it! it’s a great song! We only play songs where someone has a writing credit. We don’t touch what is not is ours. We are doing a version of what is ours. the Hanley brothers co wrote Totally Wired, Bombast, LA – I wrote, C.R.E.E.P. is another Hanley brother. I think we have 23 songs ready to go so we can use that as our sonic closet of what we want to wear that day .